DUNEDIN, Fla. – As a hospice volunteer, George Felos (search) has sat with people as they took their last breaths. As an attorney, he has guided dozens of families through the painful legal process of honoring their loved one's last wishes.
The case of Terri Schiavo (search), who died Thursday, propelled Felos to the forefront of the international debate over life and death. Felos has represented her husband since 1997 in the dramatic right-to-die legal battle against her parents, who believed she could have been rehabilitated from severe brain damage.
Felos, whose cool courtroom demeanor belies an inner spiritual intensity, became a target of harsh criticism and threats while arguing that Terri Schiavo should be allowed to die.
"The most challenging aspect of this case, from a spiritual point of view, has been dealing with these forces of such hatred and negativity," Felos said in a July 2004 interview with The Associated Press.
"I can't imagine what would motivate somebody to call up and say, 'We have put your name on a death warrant and if Terri Schiavo dies, you are next."'
The attorney confirmed Thursday morning that Schiavo had died, 13 days after her feeding tube was removed to carry out what her husband said were her wishes not be kept alive artificially.
Felos, who runs a one-man legal practice in the picturesque gulfside hamlet of Dunedin, emerged as one of the case's more complex personalities. At 53, he is the divorced father of a teenage son, a devoted practitioner of yoga and meditation, and a classical pianist.
Last summer, Felos spoke about his views, his legal practice and the Schiavo case. He declined recent requests for a follow-up interview, citing time constraints.
"This case has a lot more to do with the fear of death than the sanctity of life," he said.
Three years ago, Felos published the book "Litigation as Spiritual Practice," but it did little to win over conservative Christians who supported Terri Schiavo's parents.
Felos is known for his claim of having been able to communicate with the soul of Estelle Browning (search), whose case made Felos one of the nation's leading attorneys in the emerging field of right-to-die law.
Browning had suffered a stroke and could not speak, but Felos said he was able to sense that her soul was in agony.
"As she screamed, I heard her say in confusion, 'Why am I still here?"' Felos wrote in his book. "My soul touched hers and in some way I communicated that she was still locked to her body, I promised I would do everything in my power to gain the release her soul cried for."
Browning left a written directive that she did not want to be kept alive artificially, but the nursing home would not honor it. Felos was the attorney for Browning's guardian, who sought to disconnect the tube keeping her alive.
The 1990 case led to a Florida Supreme Court ruling that said the state's right to privacy empowered individuals to refuse unwanted medical treatment. The court also said people who can no longer communicate need only to have told friends or family of their end-of-life wishes.
Earlier that year, 26-year-old Terri Schiavo had collapsed in her St. Petersburg apartment. The collapse, due to a chemical imbalance, caused catastrophic brain damage. Terri Schiavo left no written directive.
Unlike Browning, who died of natural causes before her tube could be removed, the March 18 removal of Schiavo's tube after a seven-year legal battle set off a firestorm of debate.
Catholic University law professor Robert Destro said Felos' background as a right-to-die attorney makes him a bad fit for a case where Terri Schiavo's life is at stake.
"Doesn't that prejudge the issue?" Destro said. "In effect, he (Felos) has already confined her to the grave a long time ago."
But Randall Marshall, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (search), said Felos is a purist when it comes to the law. Marshall said he became aware of Felos' spirituality only after working with him for some time.
"I can't recall a single time where he was upset or angry," Marshall said.
Raised Greek Orthodox and educated at Boston University, Felos joined his father, James G. Felos, in civil practice after deciding he wasn't confrontational enough to take a job at the local prosecutor's office. The elder Felos died in 1995.
In March 1997, Michael Schiavo walked through Felos' door after giving up hope that his wife would recover from her brain injuries.
While Felos said in 2004 that he could appreciate the emotions the Schindlers are feeling, he said he found it harder to accept the manner in which political and religious forces sought to influence the case.
Still, as a parent, Felos said he does not know how he would behave faced with a similar situation.
"My hope would to be to be able to let go," he said. "But I don't know."